Seeking a messenger bag

Backpacks are too hot for Ottawa in summer, but I need something in which to carry around my third level gear (first level gear goes in trouser pockets, second level in rain jacket pockets). Bicycle panniers are no good for this task, both because they don’t have the right sort of pockets and because they are too awkward to carry when not cycling. As a result, I am thinking about getting a bike courier style messenger bag.

Features I want:

  1. Very robust construction
  2. Comfortable shoulder strap
  3. High level of water resistance
  4. Numerous internal pockets of useful sizes
  5. Ideally, a padded pocket for laptops up to 15″ or so.

Does anybody have a bag or brand they especially like? The Timbuk2 Laptop Messenger is a possibility. I am also considering some of the offerings from PAC Designs. I am willing to pay a fair bit for something that really meets my needs and will last for many years.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

15 thoughts on “Seeking a messenger bag”

  1. I would never recommend a messenger bag to a male, since I find the asymmetrical shoulder weight really uncomfortable (females can hold the weight on their hips). I wouldn’t plan on carrying a lot of weight (books, groceries). Why do you think a bag would be cooler than a backpack? They take up the same amount of space on your back.

    That being said, Timbuk2 bags come highly recommended from everyone I know who enjoys said asymmetry.

  2. Padraic,

    I don’t intend to carry a lot of weight in the bag. I plan to carry:

    1. One issue of The Economist, in a leather folder.
    2. A Moleskine dayplanner
    3. One or two books
    4. Sunglasses in hard case
    5. Headlamp
    6. Extra AA batteries for camera
    7. Extra AAA batteries for headlamp
    8. Titanium spork
    9. Pens
    10. Change
    11. Keys
    12. USB key
    13. Business cards
    14. Lip balm / sunscreen / seasonal stuff
    15. iPod if not in another pocket
    16. Camera if not in another pocket
    17. Wallet if not in another pocket
    18. Gloves if not in another pocket
    19. Bus pass if not in another pocket
    20. Headphones if not being used

    From time to time, also:

    A. Laptop
    B. A few more books
    C. Nintendo DS
    D. GPS receiver
    E. Bike lights
    F. Gore-tex jacket
    G. Polarfleece liner

    The point isn’t to carry a lot of stuff, but to carry things in an orderly and consistent way. The latter is key to not losing things.

    Water resistance is also a critical feature. My daypack is good ripstop nylon, but it won’t keep water out. I don’t know of any backpacks that really do.

  3. I was wondering, are you preparing a post on the upcoming supreme court ruling concerning fiduciary responsibility? Is this a tipping point for the legal structure of the coorperation? I think it just might. Thank god for those communists in Quebec.

  4. It sounds like you’re not dealing with a lot of weight (depending on the size of your laptop). Just be sure to test run the bag a few times, fully loaded before commiting (not a problem with MEC’s return policy). Even with light weight, I don’t see the advantage to a messenger bag over a backpack, but obviously lots of people disagree.

    If waterproofness is your concern, it would be much more versatile to pick up a cheap MEC drybag, which you could then use inside a backpack, a messenger bag or a suitcase. There are some waterproof backpacks (often made by the same companies as courier bags) – I’ve been drooling over these for a while.

  5. I have a Dakine messenger bag which has 2 large pockets and 2 small pockets & has proved remarkably robust, given that it is 8 years old and still intact. I use it as my hand baggage item when flying, but I find it a pretty uncomfortable way to transport a laptop.
    I can also recommend Ortlieb panniers, some of which overcome the pockets and ‘awkward to carry’ problems admirably. I own the Office Bag which I carry like a briefcase and means I can cycle with much greater comfort and enjoyment than when wearing a messenger bag (which are horribly, uncomfortably sweaty in summer).

  6. The Crumpler’s are funky. I currently have a Chrome bag, primarily for the MBP, but Ive used it on the bike a few times. Rugged as all hell and absolutely waterproof. It has a third strap that can be used to stabilize things when biking. Can be bought locally at Tall Tree Cycles in Westboro. Only cons are the lack of separate pockets and no padded laptop compartment, so you’ll need to buy a sleeve.

    I would also go with RELoad bags or Baily Works.

    The thing with all of the above bags is they are handmade in NA (USA mostly but Crumpler is Cdn).

    I had a Timbuk2 for 8 years and it took a beating but they started making them in China so I didn’t go for a second one. I think you can get the limited ed. one that is still hand stitched in SF but I am not sure…

  7. Thanks for the suggestions, everyone.

    If waterproofness is your concern, it would be much more versatile to pick up a cheap MEC drybag, which you could then use inside a backpack, a messenger bag or a suitcase.

    My present waterproofing system consists of plastic bags inside my backpack. I am looking for something a bit more elegant, though the system you suggest does work well.

  8. Perhaps the best approach would be to check out some good Toronto bike shops the next time I am over there. Ordering something off the web threatens to produce a disappointing or inappropriate product, and there don’t seem to be retailers for most of these brands in Ottawa.

  9. The degree to which you have systemized buying a man purse makes me revisit the Milan-has-autism theory.

  10. Diagnostic Criteria for 299.00 Autistic Disorder

    [The following is from Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders: DSM IV]

    (I) A total of six (or more) items from (A), (B), and (C), with at least two from (A), and one each from (B) and (C)

    (A) qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:

    1. marked impairments in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body posture, and gestures to regulate social interaction
    2. failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
    3. a lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people, (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest to other people)
    4. lack of social or emotional reciprocity ( note: in the description, it gives the following as examples: not actively participating in simple social play or games, preferring solitary activities, or involving others in activities only as tools or “mechanical” aids )

    (B) qualitative impairments in communication as manifested by at least one of the following:

    1. delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language (not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through alternative modes of communication such as gesture or mime)
    2. in individuals with adequate speech, marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
    3. stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language
    4. lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level

    (C) restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests and activities, as manifested by at least two of the following:

    1. encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus
    2. apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals
    3. stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements)
    4. persistent preoccupation with parts of objects

    (II) Delays or abnormal functioning in at least one of the following areas, with onset prior to age 3 years:

    (A) social interaction
    (B) language as used in social communication
    (C) symbolic or imaginative play

    (III) The disturbance is not better accounted for by Rett’s Disorder or Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

  11. “How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of frivolous utility? What pleases these lovers of toys is not so much the utility, as the aptness of the machines which are fitted to promote it. All their pockets are stuffed with little conveniences. They contrive new pockets, unknown in the clothes of other people, in order to carry a greater number. They walk about loaded with a multitude of baubles, in weight and sometimes in value not inferior to an ordinary Jew’s-box, some of which may sometimes be of some little use, but all of which might at all times be very well spared, and of which the whole utility is certainly not worth the fatigue of bearing the burden.”

  12. As a 25th birthday gift, Emily and Gabe got me a Hedgren Utopia bag. It is quite excellent. In particular, I appreciate how it can be converted between being a shoulder bag and a backpack. The zipper system for expanding it is also clever.

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